Section 1: San Diego to Calexico
The day before Enrique had kindly invited us to swing by his office on Monday, meet some of the Border Angels, and hopefully help us connect with his extensive network of border associates.
How did we get so lucky?
We immediately jumped at the chance, even knowing we probably wouldn’t be able to make our miles for the day. This will probably happen a lot along the way, given our focus on connecting with people during this trip. Unfortunately, the hiking schedule doesn’t always conform to everyone else’s schedule!
Thank god we went. I expected nothing else, but Enrique, Hugo and their crew of interesting, impassioned staff and volunteers gave us a needed boost and round of encouragement. We got to see Hugo again, this time without the fence between us, and learn more of his story. A man of both worlds, he moves between countries, organizing the Tijuana Border Angel efforts and commuting to the San Diego office. We met their social media coordinator, Kierra, a fellow Coloradan, who expertly (and kindly) assisted with our own social media efforts and posted a short video of us explaining our project to the Border Angels network. Near the end of our visit, Brian arrived, an American citizen who had married a Mexican woman only two days before. Border Angels had assisted with organizing the wedding, which, amazingly, occurred when Border Patrol agreed to open up the wall for a total of three minutes. This has only happened twice this year, and a handful of times before that, and requires months of preparation and an extensive background check. Unfortunately we missed the wedding, which took place the day before we began our hike, and which was, by all accounts, a powerful and emotional event. Not many people can so proudly say they were married in two countries. Congratulations Brian and Evelia!
Everyone in the office was truly interesting and interested, and just all around excellent at genuine and positive vibes. Near the end James showed up, one of the extended trip water drop coordinators, and provided another bout of inspiration, as well as some very useful logistical information about an area we will be entering in a couple days. We’re hoping to meet up with him and hike, but the logistics need to be hammered out. Another passionate and compassionate individual.
How can you not have hope for the world with people like this?
Finally, reluctantly, and after a round of pictures, we tore ourselves away, knowing we still had a lot of miles to get in. John, a Border Angels volunteer and fellow outdoor adventurer, generously offered to drive us back to Otay Mesa so we could pick up where we’d started the previous day. He took our info with the idea of possibly coordinating later to meet up for some hiking. He is, to fall far short, a kind and generous person who helped us more than he can know on our journey. Thank you for the ride and for the stories, John!
After spending an inordinate amount of time (and money) organizing our odds and ends to be shipped off to later destinations, we started to walk. Again, the city ended almost immediately and abruptly, turning into the now familiar empty and pristine industrial lots. We faced the unpleasant prospect of walking along the edge of a busy road and sticking out like a sore thumb. As hikers, and especially as women, it’s not a great feeling to stand out as you exit a town. We slowly inched our way along the streets, the Otay Mountains getting closer with every step. They seemed impossibly steep and the setting sun did not inspire confidence. It did provide a pretty spectacular sunset, though, and the lights that began to appear from the US and Mexico sides were an impressive sight.
We finally made it to the mountains, having to nervously skirt an active construction site/trash heap that unexpectedly interrupted our route. This is probably something we’ll have to deal with a lot, and it was stressful to run into so close to the end of the day. But as usual, imagination is worse than reality and we began our climb into the mountains with the setting sun behind us. We didn’t get too far before we agreed to stop, wanting to be in camp before nightfall. We looked for an opening in the scree to move off the road and into the safety of the brush. The spot we found felt very secure, but clearly others had thought the same, given the obvious signs of previous passage.
We heard a lot of noise from the ICE detention center below us; undiscernible comments over the loudspeaker, and frequent rounds of what we can only hope are fireworks, but which could easily be gunfire. The background sounds grew muted as we moved through our evening chores. This precious time in camp will serve as our office hours, time for writing, painting, documenting the day. The mountains were quiet, with a few coyotes and a cheeky mouse a little too interested in the contents of our food bag. It feels good to be in nature again. We can see the city and hear the city, but we’re protected from it, up in the mountains, in the quiet and the isolation.